Reserve and active duty plumbers get the job done
By Tech. Sgt. Phyllis E. Keith, 624th Regional Support Group Public Affairs
/ Published July 05, 2013
JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii -- It's another sunny day on the island of Oahu--84 degrees and no chance of rain. The only problem is a water main has sprung a leak on Kuntz Avenue near the Hickam Shoppette and the street will flood if it's not repaired.
No worries for the plumbers of the 647th Civil Engineering Squadron, 647th Air Base Group, 15th Wing here who are joined by two Air Force Reserve plumbers from the 624th Civil Engineering Squadron, 624th Regional Support Group here.
Supervising the job is Tech. Sgt. Benjamin M. Johnson, a plumber with the 647th CES who has 13 years of experience. Johnson says it's not uncommon for a water main break to occur every day, sometimes twice a day. "Most of the time, Murphy's Law dictates that it happens Friday, right before we go home for the weekend," he says.
The crew gets started at 4 a.m. with the heavy equipment operators, called "dirt boys," digging up the street where the leak has been detected. An abandoned fuel line and communication lines are lying on top of the water main creating an obstacle.
"It's not necessarily supposed to be that way, but it's old," says Johnson.
After the dirt boys expose the pipes, Johnson directs the reservists to turn on the water and locate the leak. Water spurts from a hairline crack in the six-inch pipe. The two reservists get in the pit and use shovels to clear away dirt around the pipe.
One of the reservists, Senior Airman Tito M. Irlas, performing his two weeks of annual Air Force Reserve training, says working with the active duty hones his plumbing skills and reinforces safety procedures. In his civilian job, he is a welding inspector at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and says he doesn't often get to fix a water main break during his Air Force Reserve weekends.
The other reservist, Airman 1st Class Robert T. Shikina, joined the Air Force Reserve last August and is on a 360-day active duty tour funded by Air Force Reserve Command's Seasoning Training Program. Shikina, a reporter for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, says he loves learning a skill like plumbing. He says the impact on people is direct and hence, the job rewarding. "We know it's going to stop the road from flooding," he says.
Johnson says he selected the two reservists for the job so they could get hands-on training.
The plumbers use a snap tool powered by hydraulic pressure to sever the cast-iron pipe. They measure and the correct length of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe needed to replace it, using couplings to secure the PVC in place.
Johnson points out that the blue PVC pipe is "C900" which means it conforms to the American Water Works Association's standards for high pressure pipes used to transport potable water. It is lightweight and easier to handle compared to the old cast iron pipe that is seldom made nowadays.
"Seeing how they worked around the abandoned fuel line and the comm lines was new for me," said Shikina.
After the new pipe is secured, the reservists turn on the water to check their repair. It's good to go. The grand finale is when the plumbers shoot water through a fire hydrant into the shoppette parking lot to clear out any debris or dirt that may have gotten into the line while they were fixing it. Johnson times it while Shikina mans the valve key that controls the flow.
"When we do deploy, this helps us to be able to perform the job," says Irlas.
Johnson says he welcomes reservists anytime he can utilize them. He says their maturity and civilian job experience, makes them good listeners who can pick up new tasks easily.
Shikina says he appreciates training full time with the active duty because they bring a lot of experience to the table, especially Johnson, a former RED HORSE member, who has deployed to build new bases.
"I've been doing this for a long time," says Johnson, "and there's always something to learn."
In the Air Force Reserve, all career fields are eligible for STP active duty tours after tech school; the length of training depends on the career field.